Home » Why the best travels of my life started after 50

Why the best travels of my life started after 50

written by Alison Armstrong April 6, 2017

In November 2013, when I was 63 and my husband, Don, was 71, we went to Iguazu Falls in Argentina. At Iguazu you can go under the falls in an open boat. From a walkway at the top of the falls I pointed out the boat to Don. “There’s no way I’m going in that!” he said.

Of course we went in it.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Afterwards I wrote this:

What an experience! We knew we’d get wet, and were wearing only swimsuits, but wet is not the word. Drenched! Saturated! Soaked! Deluged! It was like heading into a torrent. So much water coming at me I couldn’t breathe, and had to turn my face away, and for a second thought “I could drown here”. All of us screaming with excitement. And me laughing so hard I thought I’d choke. It was a laugh that came from the gut, from the very core, and filled the entire body before escaping through the mouth as a roar, a veritable volcano of a laugh that went on and on. In a good way. In the best way. And what was so funny? The sheer ridiculous absurdity of what we were doing – sitting in an open boat heading straight into a waterfall. And the fact that we actually chose to do it.

I doubt I have ever felt more alive.

It’s 2011. Don is 68 and past his due-by date at work. He desperately needs to retire, so much so that he’s starting to get sick, but we don’t know how we can afford it. We have some retirement savings, and some pensions, but we also have debts and a mortgage. Through a lot of soul searching the idea arises to sell the apartment and use the proceeds to pay off our debts and travel the world. Once the solution appears it seems obvious. It comes down to this: do we want a home or do we want a life? It takes four months to sell the apartment, its contents, and our car, and for Don to close his business. We’ve been nomadic ever since.

Alison and Don in Bolivia

The idea of home has become very fluid. Home is with each other. In the past five and a half years “home” has been a hotel, hostel, apartment, tent, train, ship, plane, house-sitting, or staying with family. There’s an enormous freedom in not owning property.

We began our journey in September of 2011 and since then have been to 31 countries on six continents. We have traveled in India and Southeast Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, South and Central America, Europe and the Middle East. Over a million miles in all. The more I travel the more I want to travel.

Alison in Río Secreto, Mexico

William Blake said: A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. I traveled extensively in my twenties, motivated by a great curiosity. I found it enriching and exciting, but I did not see in the way that I see at this stage in my life. It’s not that I was a fool so much as I was foolish, and young. There is a presence and confidence that comes with having lived a few years. Perspective on life is different. Like most people, in my twenties I felt invincible, and of course I assumed that I had all of my life ahead of me. Traveling at that age is about seeing the world and how others live, but it is also a grand party. Life sings and zings and flits all over the place.

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Now that I’m older, life is short, so short, and so precious, and each moment is to be savored. Because of this I see and feel things differently. When I saw the Eiffel Tower in my twenties I thought it was pretty amazing, but I was more interested in talking with the handsome French man who struck up a conversation with me. Seeing it again in my fifties it was as if I really saw it for the first time: its beauty and grandeur, its simplicity, its complexity, and its sheer elegance. I was stunned, and realized I’d never really seen it before.

paris skyline

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

In our travels we’ve done things we never thought we would ever do. We went ice trekking on Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina. This time it was me who was afraid and Don who was determined to do it, to put on crampons and trek across the shifting crevices of a glacier. There is nothing quite like stepping out of your comfort zone. Every cell of the body sings. The heart rejoices, and life shouts YES!

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We have been parasailing and zip-lining, waded our way through an underground river with only headlamps for light, climbed a volcano in the dark to see the sunrise, been up in a hot air balloon, snorkeled in several different places, hiked all over the world, and dissolved into tears in the ancient tombs of Egypt, in Hindu temples in India, and in Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia.

Some of the most extraordinary things we’ve seen and experienced include the Temples Of Humankind at Damanhur in Italy, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a four-hour charismatic church service in Samoa, the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan, and a two-week festival of indigenous dance and music in Mexico. We feel more alive, more engaged with life than we ever have.

Alison and Don in Petra, Jordan

When I was young, I saw things in black and white and thought I knew everything. Now that I’m older I realize that there are grey areas in everything and that the more I learn the less I know. It means that I have a greater compassion for all I encounter. I’m softer now, and have nothing to prove. This deeply affects how I experience the world and how I interact with people. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that if you approach people with kindness and an open heart they will respond in kind and this has been true everywhere we’ve been. Language is not an issue. Smiles and kindness are universal. We’ve rarely felt unsafe.

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The inner journey has been as enriching as the outer journey. At some point we stopped worrying so much about money. Our relationship has deepened; when you’re together 24/7 you learn to resolve issues very quickly. And we have learned to trust, and surrender, in a way that we never had before we embarked on this journey.

We’re now 66 and 74 and we still have a list of places we’d like to travel to. Even though we take quite long breaks, staying in one place for months at a time, we’re not done yet.

After all, age is just a number; whatever number you are, don’t let it stop you traveling.

Alison and Don in Cotopaxi, Ecuador

To continue following the adventures of Alison and Don, check out their blog alisonanddon.com.

Ready to go explore that big wide world? Check out our small group tours in over 100 countries.

 

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39 comments

Kaye March 18, 2018 - 10:08 am

Thank you Alison for your inspirational article, good on you both for doing what gives you joy and peace. I have enjoyed reading the comments left by others and in some way can relate. My journey is a little different but in someways the same. I’m in my 50s and have wanted to travell but let everything hold me back, so when my daughter who also wanted to travel said to me ‘come on mum you and I can do this together’ I jumped at the chance. I know she won’t be able to do this when she settles down with a family of her own but she has given me the confidence that I can travell, and I have so many places on my list.

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Alison March 20, 2018 - 2:31 pm

Thanks so much Kaye. I’m so happy for you that your daughter nudged you along. And once she settles down I’m sure you’ll be able to continue solo. I travelled solo in my 20’s and 30’s but not since then. Now I’m about to embark on a solo trip to Japan, then I’ll be joining an Intrepid tour in China. I was initially nervous about it all, especially the truly solo part in Japan, but now I’m just getting excited. I think if we just dive in feet first things tend to work out. We’ve certainly found people around the world are overwhelmingly kind and helpful.

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Hillary November 18, 2017 - 12:50 pm

I love this, Alison! When my husband and I got married, we traveled much like you two have (for 15 months), thinking we would “get it out of our system” before settling down to have kids. It did quite the opposite! Almost fifteen years later, I constantly have the itch to do it again and am counting down the time until the kids are in (out of ??) college and we can retire to hit the road once again. Enjoy! You are an inspiration.

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Alison March 20, 2018 - 2:26 pm

Hi Hillary. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to reply! I guess I didn’t receive any notification of your comment for some reason. I travelled a lot when I was young too and it definitely didn’t get it out of my system. Thanks for your kind words. Hope you get to go travelling again soon. It will be even better than before!

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Menno & Janneke November 9, 2017 - 6:28 pm

We are 50 & 49 and feeling like you did before you started your journeys. In the last 10 years my wife has become epileptic and been through a mastectomy due to breast cancel. Events like these change your perspective & priorities. We have started structuring our lives to be able to start travelling. Luckily have no more debt. Small steps. First a month trip. Then a month and a half & recently 2 months. Testing our resolve, confidence and abilities both financially & physically. One dsy soon we hope to be where you are at. Only real difference is that we need to structure it around owning properties, as it is these properties that provide the passive income to sustain us.
Keep on inspiring us and others & happy travels.

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Alison November 11, 2017 - 8:06 am

So sorry to hear of your wife’s illnesses, but on the other had so excited and impressed with the way you are living your life – determined to do as much as you can, to have a life, instead of being defeated by circumstances. You are both an amazing inspiration!
If you’re up to two months I bet you could do three 🙂
Still, Don and I have got to the point that we don’t want to do more than two months at a time on the road, then we need to stop for a while to integrate it all, and at the moment we’re actually on a twelve-month time out as I heal from various mobility issues.
I’ll finish with what you said – keep on inspiring us and others & happy travels.
Alison

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Lynn November 7, 2017 - 3:35 pm

Thanks for the great article – it resonates so much! As a solo female traveler in my 50’s (soon to be 60!) I have been on the road as a full time nomad for 3 years now and agree with all of your observations. It’s a wonderful life, although I do miss having my own bed & pillow sometimes. A question – do you buy travelers insurance? I have for 3 years, and am about due for a new yearly policy, but found when I recently had to make a small claim the company was a nightmare to deal with. Any advice is appreciated!

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Alison November 9, 2017 - 9:46 am

Thanks so much Lynn, and you’re welcome. I’m not surprised it resonated given your own life!
I assume you’re talking about medical insurance. We don’t buy any other kind of insurance. We only buy medical insurance in countries where medical services are expensive which really means all developed countries – Australia, NZ, USA, Western Europe, etc. We don’t buy medical insurance for so-called ‘developing countries’ because we’ve learned by experience that you can get excellent medical attention for very little cost, e.g. Mexico, India, even Laos. I’m sure you can find out online the cost of basic medical services in whatever country you’re visiting and decide if you’d rather just pay for it if you even end up needing it. We always have repatriation insurance – an annual family membership for about US$700. In the event of being hospitalised for accident or illness you (and spouse) will be flown to the hospital of your choice (ie home if you want, or the nearest hospital of international standard). I’m not sure if I can say the name of the company that offers this service here in the comments, but if you look you’ll find it online. Hope this helps. Happy travels.
Alison

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Lynn November 9, 2017 - 2:06 pm

Thanks Alison!

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Larry November 4, 2017 - 7:50 am

I’m curious as to what your annual budget is. How much do I need to live on the road for a few years?

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Alison November 9, 2017 - 9:58 am

There’s no simple answer to this question. We’re not wealthy by any means but we didn’t have a budget. We have a certain standard – not the cheapest flights if it means 2 or 3 changes – we pay the extra for a direct flight. Three star hotels or equivalent. We don’t stay in hostels generally, except in NZ where the hostels are of a very high standard and private rooms are available. Of course staying in backpackers hostels is a lot less expensive, and you’ll have a great time meeting people. Generally SE Asia is cheaper than South America, and India is cheaper than both. Anywhere off season will cost less than high season. In theory when travelling we try to live on $4000 per month for two of us. It’s an amusing theory that never works. BUT it is possible to travel for WAY less than that – stay in hostels, take local transport, eat where the locals eat. Probably the minimum you’d need would be $1500 per month.

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Kathleen November 11, 2017 - 11:35 am

This is inspirational! and that budget is intriguing. At 51 and divorcing this is a serious possibility, I speak only English would this be a problem?

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Robyn August 14, 2017 - 9:31 pm

Hi
Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences. Since I turned 50, 7 years ago I have had some fantastic adventures. The middle east, morroco, nepal, asia.
At 55 I sold my home, furniture and ‘stuff’ , found the 2 cats a new happy home and told the kids I was spending the money. 2016 saw me take a 5 month trip to volunteer and see vietnam, spain, france and london for the first time. Iceland in winter is fantastic! Next year I’m off to south america for 2 months- how exciting. When I’m not traveling I pick up jobs, currently nannying.

I agree with you, it is so different when you see the world as a more mature traveller. Not sure why it is for others, for me it’s that i have taken myself out of the conventional life i was suppose to follow and be brave to take the leap.
Always looking for something to do- 2019, back to nepal with my big brother.

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Alison August 16, 2017 - 9:16 am

Hi Robyn, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about our travel experiences. It sounds as though you’ve been having a few experiences of your own! What a life you’ve created for yourself. For us too, leaving behind a conventional life has had so many rewards. South America is amazing! Have a fabulous time there!
Alison

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Lynn November 7, 2017 - 3:38 pm

Robyn,
Sounds like we’ve been living parallel lives! I left the US at age 56 after selling all of my stuff & have been traveling ever since. I’ve house & pet sat, and considered being a nanny, but haven’t done that yet. How are you finding your nanny gigs, if you don’t mind my asking? Thanks 🙂

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Shada August 14, 2017 - 8:31 am

Hello..

Such a beautiful article …
Anyone can travel , but to travel with a soul mate , to travel as one though you be two is a marvellous thing , for it makes all your adventures more beautiful , sunsets richer , company mire invigorating , you feel deeper , experience richer ,..
Two breaths as one ..
God bless you both..

It’s a beautiful beautiful
World out there and what you see must make your souls sing !
I’m glad you’re not materialistic and no domicile is quite your home …
More precious than any monetary object is the feeding of the soul and becoming one with nature ..
One forgets the pettiness of life and becomes so thankful for having this beautiful gift and the wonder of it !
More adventures to you both!

You live a beautiful dream in the realms
Of reality …
Dreams are wonderful
And living them even more fantastic !
May you both have many more new experiences to come ..
Thank you for the beautiful article xxx

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Alison October 29, 2017 - 4:22 pm

Hello Shada. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to respond to you. Thank you for your beautiful words and thoughts. We know how lucky we are to have each other, and to have the life we have. It is indeed a wonderful dream.
Alison

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Alan Rimmer July 1, 2017 - 3:21 am

Hi Alison…
…many thanks for your kind comment. Yes, life has been pretty kind in many ways.
The Yorkshire Dales are much lower than some of the places you’ve visited, no glaciers here! They can however give a good day out – so if ever you and Don find yourselves in Northern England (the Lake District National Park is fairly close too, some good mountain days to be had there too), contact me and I’d be happy to show you both around.
Best wishes…
Alan

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Alison August 16, 2017 - 9:19 am

Thanks Alan. Don has spent some time in the Lakes District many years ago, but I’ve never been there, though I did live in Yorkshire for a while, again many years ago. Don was born in Whitley Bay. I would love to see the Lakes District so we just might show up on your doorstep one day 🙂
Alison

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Emily June 7, 2017 - 3:40 am

I’m getting ready for Israel again then down to find an apartment to rent so I may travel all winter. My home is in New Mexico and. It sure what to do w my beloved young dog.
Thinking of Malaga For a home base
Ideas? I’m single 60 yr old gal

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Alison June 8, 2017 - 3:06 am

Hi Emily. Sorry I have no answers re your dog, but can recommend the town of Nerja up the coast a little from Malaga – lovely beaches, an easy day trip to Alhambra, laid-back cobble-stone town. We spent 2 weeks there in December a few years ago and loved it.
Alison

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Alan Rimmer July 1, 2017 - 3:16 am

Emily, I have never visited the area Alison suggests but have heard and read so many good things about that region of Spain.
Having Alhambra so near just has to be the icing on the cake.
I wish you every happinness and success and hope you find the perfect home, let me know if you can…
Alan

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Ange April 29, 2017 - 5:26 am

Inspirational! This is globetrotter goals 😀

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Alison June 1, 2017 - 1:01 am

Thanks Ange. We’ve been inspired along the way by so many people so I’m glad to hear we’re passing it along 🙂
Alison

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Sooz April 29, 2017 - 3:40 am

I can’t wait to begin my nomadic adventure, which will be in about a year, at age 58! I’ll be starting the journey alone, but who knows, maybe I’ll find my ultimate travel partner on the road.

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Alison April 30, 2017 - 4:02 am

It’s amazing the connections you make on the road. Wishing you all the best for your upcoming journey. Some of our experiences were all the more exciting because we’d waited so long to fulfill those dreams. Happy travels.
Alison

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Alan Rimmer July 1, 2017 - 3:10 am

Hi Sooz…
…enjoy your nomadic adventure…and hey, you’re still a Babe !! (written with respect and hopefully taken in same way).
With your zest for life, there’s every chance you’ll find your ultimate travel partner.
Safe and happy travels…and let me know how you go on if you can…
Alan

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Menno & Janneke April 29, 2017 - 3:15 am

Great inspiration especially since we are just getting started at 50 years young! Over the last 10 years, we have experienced some serious wake up calls with regards to health. This in turn has helped us see things differently, which is why we are now focused on travelling more often. Not as your typical “package tourist” by as “midlifebackpackers”.

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Alison April 30, 2017 - 4:05 am

Thanks Menno and Janneke. Sometimes Life gives us wakeup calls eh. We discover what’s really important. You must be having an amazing time focusing more on what you really want to be doing. Happy travels.
Alison

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Maya April 23, 2017 - 12:14 pm

Very inspiring post, enjoyed reading it. Just the kind of motivation I needed !

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Alison April 24, 2017 - 10:37 am

Thanks Maya, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s just about the best thing we’ve ever done!
Alison

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Johanna Bradley April 12, 2017 - 1:56 am

I’m amazed at the stuff you’ve done, Alison. Long may you both be well enough to continue. 🙂

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Alison April 12, 2017 - 4:52 pm

Thanks Jo. We hope so too!

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Eileen O Norman April 10, 2017 - 11:25 am

I love traveling vicariously with you. Our travel experiences have been much more tame and limited mostly to cities in Europe. But most of them were done with me in a wheel chair. At one castle that was naturally inaccessible, my son suggested asking if we could use the catapult! Some funny stories and a few scary moments, but well worth the struggle. I do so love your posts. Your photos are fantastic and your writing brings a whole other level to the experiences you share. You guys were meant to be travelers and sharers of the experience. Bless you for it.

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Alison April 12, 2017 - 4:56 pm

Thanks so much Eileen. Wow your travels sound amazing given your restrictions. Kudos! I do think travel is always worth the struggle. And I love your son’s sense of humour. Chuckle.

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Louise Terranova April 9, 2017 - 8:55 am

What a wonderful article, an inspiration to go out of our comfort zone and a reminder that age is a state of mind.

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Alison April 12, 2017 - 4:58 pm

Thanks Louise. We’re still pretty amazed by how our lives turned out. If anyone had said to us six years ago that this is what we’d do I’m sure we wouldn’t have believed them, but yes, as long as you’re healthy age is a state of mind.

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Alan Rimmer April 7, 2017 - 8:51 am

Hey Alison…well done you and Don. Great article. I was 70 two days ago, been out today to do one of the “3 Peaks” in the Yorkshire Dales in Northern England, damned hard work getting fit but worth every minute. I too travelled in France in my 20s including 3 Octobers working on the grape harvest in the Beaujolais area…and seeing Paris. You weren’t foolish then, you just hadn’t learned the life-skills/appreciation of what we now see. The Eifel Tower looks different to me now too…but this time I could share it with my daughters. Keep on travelling, good health and safe journeys to you both, Alan

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Alison April 12, 2017 - 5:04 pm

Thanks so much Alan. Well I think I was a little foolish :), but also yes, I hadn’t learned the life skills and appreciation that seems to come with living a few years. How wonderful that you can now share the Eiffel Tower (and I’m sure other places too) with your daughters. And very cool that you’re climbing the Yorkshire Dales. I’d love to do that! One day. So much world, so little time . . . . . . .

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